Habitat for Humanity Greater Los Angeles revitalizes communities one House, one family at a time

Aug 30, 2012

Los Angeles, with some of the most expensive real estate in the country, ranks as one of the least affordable housing markets in the U.S., with 30% of people living in substandard housing or homeless. To combat this, nonprofit Habit for Humanity Greater Los Angeles (HFH GLA) has developed a range of affordable home ownership programs that serve low-income families and individuals. Working with thousands of volunteers, and corporate sponsors like Bank of America, HFH GLA is dedicated to making owning a home possible for hardworking individuals and families, many of whom never thought homeownership was within their grasp.

Since it was founded in 1990, HFH GLA has built or renovated nearly 800 homes, and plans to build or renovate another 250 over the next three years through the government-funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Currently, Habitat serves 112 cities in Los Angeles County, including 70 communities within the City of Los Angeles. 

Since 1987, Bank of America has worked with Habitat for Humanity International, contributing $22 million to date in grants, about 20,000 volunteer hours a year, and active board involvement. Habitat’s approach is a long-term affordable solution that benefits the whole community; family selection and homeowner education ensure a stable investment in neighborhoods. Says Erin Rank, President and CEO of the L.A. branch, “This organization has grown in good real estate markets and bad, regardless of economic trends. We have less than a 1% default rate on our mortgages because our families are invested in the process.”

Habitat for Humanity’s model has become a prototype for nonprofits that expect their homeowners to be active participants in their own futures; the organization sees the process as a “hand up, not a handout.” With private donations, volunteer labor, and donated building materials, HFH builds houses in partnership with families selected through a rigorous application process. Only after partner families have invested up to 500 hours of sweat equity in the construction process are they able to move into their new home. Families have to have a history of steady employment; their mortgages are set below 35% of their monthly income so they are able to swing the payments. The homes are sold to the partner families at no profit and are financed with affordable zero-interest loans. And whenever possible, the housing is energy efficient and sustainable.

Most often, the families are coming to the new homes from overcrowded, substandard or unsafe conditions. Amanda Jordan is a single mother who recently was able to move into a newly renovated house in Lynwood. She had been living in one room with her three children in a three-bedroom house with 13 other people. Although she had a steady job working at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, she was not able to remove her family from a crowded and chaotic living situation. A neighbor of a cousin gave her a flyer about Habitat for Humanity’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which uses federal funds to buy foreclosed homes and remodels them for low-income individuals. She says, “I didn’t know if it was for real. It sounded too good to be true. But, with my family, I’ve been doing my sweat equity hours and taking the classes—meeting the requirements of the program. But I had to do something for my kids. I had to find some stability for them.” 

On April 26, a team assembled to tear down an abandoned home and start building a new one for a Habitat partner homeowner. Forty-five Bank of America employees partnered with HFH and the Los Angeles Dodgers to supply the labor. Says Garret Gin, a Bank of America executive for Global Marketing and Corporate Affairs in L.A., “The most inspirational part of a project like this one is meeting the family and seeing how the time and effort of our employees will transform their future. But the work today is also going to lift up and beautify the whole block. Our partnership with Habitat for Humanity is going to do this very thing in other places in Lynwood. It will improve home prices. House by house, we’re going to help transform these blocks and neighborhoods.”

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